"30 Rock," the beloved but low rated comedy is gone now, having passed on to the great boob tube in the sky, but Tina Fey fans can get their fix of her trademarked brand of witty and wise humor in “Admission,” a “mom com” co-starring Paul Rudd.
Fey is Portia Nathan, a mildly compulsive Princeton admissions officer—they jokingly call her their “golden retriever” because of her record of recruiting a-plus students—who leads a quiet, ordered life with professor Mark (Michael Sheen). They share a love of poetry, hatred of kids and not much else. Her well ordered life is thrown into disarray when John Pressman (Rudd), a free-spirited former classmate and now teacher at an alternative school, introduces her to Jeremiah Balakian (Nat Wolff), a brilliant young man who may be the child she gave up for adoption seventeen years ago.
Fey didn’t write “Admission,” but it is firmly in her wheelhouse. Like “30 Rock” before it, “Admission” takes a recognizable style and subverts it with smarts. It’s a female driven romantic comedy, but there isn’t a rom com clichés in sight. Instead there are René Descartes jokes and Bella Abzug sight gags, but what else, exactly, did you expect in a movie set at Princeton?
But it also more than that. It’s a big studio comedy—the first half-hour is hysterical and then it evens out, although Lily Tomlin as Portia’s militant mom is hilarious throughout—that has all the laughs but none of the vulgarity (unless you’re offended by the line, “You’re not the only one who smells of cow placenta”) of the recent Hollywood amusements.
Fey fans will remember “Baby Mama” and the late season “30 Rock” motherhood storyline, so Portia’s maternal development completes the trilogy of motherhood movies, except, that like in those other stories, not everything works out exactly as planned.
As a recruiter Portia uses the line, “What’s the secret to getting in? I can’t tell you—you have to find out for yourself,” in her pitch to students. Those words also echo her character arc—she must find independence to find herself. That’s a heady concept for a rom com and pretty much the opposite of every romantic comedy plotline every written.
There she goes again subverting the genre.
“Admission” is familiar enough to not jar the sensibilities of undemanding rom com fans, but there is more here than immediately meets the eye.